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Architecture Can Change a Nation

Architecture as a vehicle for nation-building aims to integrate the people’s history and cultural heritage with modern trends and technological breakthroughs.

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Photograph: Adobe Stock Photography

Architecture has been defined in many ways—by the dictionary and by various authorities. However, one description that readily comes to mind was a definition I first heard about two decades ago when I took my first design class in my sophomore year of college at Abia State University, Uturu, Nigeria. “Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings and nonbuilding structures,” and this is the definition and meaning that has resonated with me over these years. In most descriptions of Architecture that I’ve come across, two words have almost steadily appeared in most of the architecture descriptions—Art and Design. 

“Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings and nonbuilding structures.” ― Sophomore Year Class Note, School of Architecture, Abia State University.

Contextually speaking, the subject of design is described as creating a construction plan. On the other hand, art is defined as the conscious use of creative imagination in the production of beautiful objects. However, in the interpretation of both designations, the words “creation” and “creativity” appear. Creation is “the act of producing or causing to exist.” Creativity is “the state or quality of having the power of causing to come into being.” They are the same thing. Hence, underscoring the importance of creativity is a “skill” for design and architecture. Creativity pushes architects to think outside the box when it comes to designing creative and functional spaces.

Think outside the box—Be creative.

Architecture as a professional or subject reflects the art, culture, perception, character, and story of a people captured in time and space reflected in buildings and other infrastructures. Fundamental to this is the use of materials and form patterns to tell a story. Deep thinking Architects with passion and zeal know that the impact of their design goes beyond building houses. These houses shape our mood, thoughts, actions, and general development either positively or negatively. It is astonishing to think that the simple placement of shapes and forms, a mere play of light and shade, can spark and act as a catalyst for change in our lives. Architecture is an agent of change. As the saying goes, “change is the only constant in life.” Architecture is a compelling contrivance that can deliver change.

Ancient Roman Architecture is an example of how Architecture can change a nation and indeed the world. Although the Roman Empire is now ended, one can still see how this empire shaped almost all of Europe through its arts, architecture, and engineering. Roman architecture borrowed a lot of its concepts from the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persia. The introduction of concrete by ancient Rome ushered in a new way of design for Architects and a new way of building for builders and construction engineers—then and now. With the discovery of concrete, architects would begin to work infrastructural wonders, bringing about a dynamic change in the world of architectural design and building. 

Pantheon, Rome, Italy

Concrete was stronger than marble, and it could be shaped when wet and reinforced with other materials such as steel or iron. This allowed the Romans to build wider spanned ornamental domes and arches. Although used by Greek, Arches were first used by the Romans to support their underground drainages. They were also used as decorative ornamentations referred to as triumphal arches. Dotted throughout modern-day Europe, these were used to celebrate important events. Some examples of Roman structures built with their early form of concrete (i.e., pozzolana cement) were the Appian Way, Roman baths, the Coliseum and Pantheon in Rome, and the Pont du Gard aqueduct in southern France.

Without the creative ideas of Ancient Roman Architects (e.g., Apollodorus of Damascus, Argelius, Lucius Cocceius Auctus, Decriannus, Hyginus Gromaticus, Heracleides, Hermodorus of Salamis, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, etc.), our concept for the modern society—as experienced through arts and architecture—would not exist. These architects went the extra mile to shape the then Roman Empire, but they also influenced and still influenced our concept and understanding of architecture and functional society. From the ruins of Palmyra in Syria to the Amphitheatre of El Djem in Tunisia, the Diocletian’s Palace in Croatia, the Tower of Hercules in Spain, to mention but a few. There is hardly any modern-day Architectural design or concepts that do not incorporate—at some level—concepts, elements, or materials from the ancient Roman Empire.

United States Supreme Court, Washington, D.C., USA.

The instrumentality of architecture as an agent of change and a major contributing factor to nation-building cannot be overemphasized. Architecture can transform society; it can give a nation its national identity. A country that embraces Architecture as a tool for change is seen on a grand scale as progressive. We can see a modern-day example of architecture as an agent of change in the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Dubai and Abu Dhabi are typical examples of the progressive use of architecture as an urbanization tool to transform the constituent Emirates of the UAE.

In the nineteen sixties, Dubai was a small fishing community. It was also a trade route between Oman and Iraq. The architecture of that era adapted well to its harsh arid climatic conditions characterized by high temperatures, high humidity, and low rainfalls. To adapt to the arid nature of that geographic location, walls are built thicker. Alleyways and walkways connect buildings. Courtyards with water bodies were used to accentuate architectural designs. The builders constructed wind towers and exterior windows where few—the use of indirect windows to tackle dust-laden winds became the norm. These characterizations helped keep houses chill and free of dust.

Dubai—The evolution of a society

In the nineteen seventies, a combination of the oil boom, sophisticated technology, and visionary leadership saw a change in infrastructural development. During this time, the foundation for what is now known as modern-day Dubai was laid. Abu Dhabi, the capital, and the other five Emirates are not far behind. This new architecture displays a combination of tradition and advanced technology. The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque (Abu Dhabi), the Burj Khalifa (Dubai), Burj Al Arab Hotel (Dubai), the Emirates Palace (Abu Dhabi), the Landmark (Abu Dhabi), Etihad Towers (Abu Dhabi), Palm Island (Dubai), to mention a few, are architectural masterpieces that have changed the skyline of the UAE. The UAE has found their voice, and the instrument of choice for expressing themselves is its architecture.

“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.” — Frank Gehry.

Architecture is the iconic tool that the UAE is using to show its urbanized progressiveness and futuristic development. Let us go on a photo journey and see some of these architectural masterpieces that the UAE is using to express itself:

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE, is an architectural marvel. The Founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s eclectic vision of the mosque, assimilates architectural styles from different Muslim civilizations.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE

The Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE is globally iconic—an architectural masterpiece and solid science work. The building stands at over 828 meters (2716.5 feet) and more than 160 stories high. It is the tallest building in the world.

Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai, UAE

Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai, UAE

The Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai, UAE, is a breathtaking architectural masterpiece under the Jumeirah hotel group’s management. It remains one of the tallest hotels in the world and stands on an artificial island. The building resembles the sail of a ship.

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, UAE, is a resort of outstanding elegance with a private beach and marina. Its stunning Arabian interiors are grand and effuses opulence. British architect John Elliott, RIBA, designed this 7-star hotel edifice.

The Landmark, Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Landmark, Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Landmark, Abu Dhabi, UAE stands as a stalwart landmark in its own architectonic right. Standing as the 114th tallest building globally, the 23rd in the Middle East, the 21st in the UAE, and the 3rd in Abu Dhabi. The Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects designed this iconic landmark.

Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi City, United Arab Emirates

The Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi, UAE, is an architectural landmark and statement of great sophistication. It is an emblem of Abu Dhabi’s nationhood. It has five towers that shoulders accommodations, retail, offices, restaurants, hotels, gardens, etc. This sculptural feat is a product of the Australian Architects DBI Design.

Palm Island, Dubai, UAE

Palm Island, Dubai, UAE.

The Palm Island, Dubai, UAE are three artificial islands constructed on the Dubai coast in UAE. These three islands—the Palm Jumeirah, Deira Islands (Arabic: جزر ديرة‎), and Palm Jebel Ali (Arabic:نخلة جبل علي), remain some of the most ambitious engineering projects ever initiated.

“Architecture is the future of our tomorrow. It will define nations. It will transform nations.” – Ogbonnaya Agom-Eze.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said that “Architecture is always the will of the age conceived as space—nothing else. Until this simple truth is clearly recognized, the struggle over the foundation of a new architecture confident in its aims and powerful in its impact cannot be realized; until then, it is destined to remain a chaos of uncoordinated forces.” Mies was saying that “…the will of the age… nothing else” is what makes the difference. The UAE had a will to become a progressive and near-futuristic society of the age via architecture, and they achieved it. He said here that unless there is clarity of understanding, establishing a new architectural order will struggle. So, there is the need to study and understand the emerging order to establish it. This is where the artist and the scientist in the architect meets.

Architecture—A Tool for Change

Changing nations, one structure at a time.

Architecture has, and still is, changing nations by amplifying the people’s cultures and values through their built-up environment. One of the fundamental principles of Architecture is the ability to self-correct over time. This scientific method aligns with the principles of evolution—the crystallization of ideas over periods of time. The newer ideas are incorporated into newer designs, thus sparking newer concepts. Architecture as a national change vehicle can be achieved using two primary methods of approach—indirect and direct approach.

Indirect Approach

Architect showing new family house model to customer at office.

In the Indirect Approach, when a client employs an Architect to design a building or buildings, the architect in the ideation state draws on several concepts to forge something that reflects current and emerging trends to appeal to the client’s requirements.  If successfully replicated over several projects, this idea or multiple ideas has the potential of creating a new reality, culture, and order. By indirectly replicating concepts and ideas, similar and sometimes dissimilar, the Architect, through his designs, has the potential of setting the foundations for a new or emerging culture, will, or way of life, forever seared in this architecture.

Direct Approach

Architectonically deliberate—A futuristic skyline

Through the Direct Approach, the architect consciously decides to create a new order toward an envisioned future with the sole purpose of creating a new national identity. This approach involves five principal steps: (a). Documentation; (b) Synthesis and Analysis; (c). Goals and Objectives; (d). The Plan; and (e). Execution and Revision.

A. Documentation

The architect determines the current state of the nation by comprehensively documenting it.

The architect determines the current state of the nation by comprehensively documenting various aspects of it. First, by recording the current state of the nation’s physical and social infrastructures (i.e., the physical and social-cultural composition of her people). Second, it’s housing stock and current policies. Third, it’s economic infrastructures. Fourth and lastly, by reporting the nation’s available natural and human resources. 

To have a comprehensive and credible picture of these situations, this must be done starting from the grassroots to the government structure’s highest echelons. While people may believe that an architect’s function is limited to buildings alone, on the contrary, architects are heavily involved in urban planning and almost every aspect of planning any built-up environment.

B. Analysis and Synthesis

Analysis and Synthesis—The Yin and Yang of Sustainable Architecture

The post documentation stage involves processing of collated data. Through Analysis, the architect separates the assembled materials into constituent elements that make sense. Through synthesis, the architect combines the constituent analyzed data with new data for a more complex whole that forms the bedrock for future sustainable design. The purpose of doing this is to understand and create a clear and critical path towards a feasible design proposal that is aimed at integrating and harnessing available resources to achieve a goal. 

C. Goals & Objectives

Make your goals and objectives SMART.

This is when the architectural team, or design team, defines what the design process intends to accomplish and how to go about it after sifting through the wealth of synthesized information that has been gathered. Markers will be set up by way of goals and milestones for the life of the design project. At this point, we will break down the big goals into manageable forms. Hence, the goal must be SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.

D. The Plan

The plan is a roadmap, a critical path to success—a pathway towards the architect’s vision.

With the goals and objectives in place, the architect now devices a plan. The plan is a roadmap, a critical path to success drawn up and scheduled by the architect to give guidance for the journey towards the goals and objectives—a pathway towards the architect’s vision. Assignments will be issued at this stage. Checks, balances, and accountability are essential here.

E. Execution and Revision

Just do itWork on the execution of the plan.

During the execution or implementation phase, constant revisions and updates are an absolute necessity for this design to succeed. The analysis of all fields follows next, and an update of the original plans happens regularly. At this stage, there will be an assessment of its effects on the initial design. There will also be a need to continually evaluate and reexamine the project as the plan plays out. This is necessary to bring any design plan completion successfully.

“The purpose of architecture, as defined by the architects Mies van der Rohe and Frank Gehry, is to capture and understand the trends of the times of a people, to forge a better future through design.” — Uzoma Aliche.

As defined by the architects Mies van der Rohe and Frank Gehry, the purpose of architecture is to capture and understand the trends of the times of a people to forge a better future through design. The difference between the two approaches discussed is their scope. The indirect approach uses architecture and design to influence change on a smaller scale. The direct method is the deliberate use of data to affect change using Architecture on a more grandiose scale. That is what the United Arab Emirates did in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and all the other emirates. They were deliberate in their attempt to use Architecture in revolutionizing their society. However, the principles for creating a functional design are the same for the direct and indirect methods.

Architecture ignites Urban Development

Architecture as a vehicle for nation-building aims to integrate the people’s history and cultural heritage with modern trends and technological breakthroughs. Using architecture as an urbanization contrivance amplifies the strengths of society while eliminating its weaknesses. It is a symbolic portrayal of the progressiveness of a nation. The resultant effect is a creative, functional, rejuvenated, and sustainable built environment that shapes and changes its inhabitants’ lives forever. This visionary and futuristic process creates an avalanche of credible data which future generations can use.    

The ripple effects of architecture as a platform for national change are endless. We have taken a stroll in time to Rome and seen how Architecture helped shape the then world. We saw the advances that ensued after the discovery of concrete—this was a time for architectural, construction, and engineering advancements—redefining and repositioning the Roman Empire as a vanguard of architectural and technological advancement. We have extensively surveyed the progressive and optimistic outlook for the UAE and its constituent Emirates. The UAE is not letting up—they remain an evolving hub for futuristic designs and unimaginable construction wonders—the share resolution of a people to voice their progressiveness and futuristic output via Architecture and neo-urbanization measures.

“At its most vital, architecture is an agent of change.” — Charles Correa.

In summary, we can say that Architecture can unquestionably change a nation. If you survey most countries that are characterized as advanced, you will notice that remarkable Architectural sundry marvels usually delineate their urban ambiance. Hence, if they are not doing so already, underdeveloped nations should consider deploying architecture as a tool for nation-building. New and efficient architectural designs with reduced negative urban and environmental impact, but improved efficiency and usage increase productivity, improve welfare and wellness, safety, security, and our general well-being. This, of course, leads to the molding of sound minds, which will lead to an improved economic situation and more. Architecture as a tool for nation-building works—understand it, embrace it, utilize it.

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Uzoma Aliche is a guest contributor of Oaekpost, LLC, a U.S.-based online media company. He is a trained architect with decades of experience and projects spanning across the continents of Africa and the United States. His area of specialty on Oaekpost is the category Architecture and Interiors. You can reach him at

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